Longing for a letter – no app for that

I texted 17 people yesterday. About five texts per person. Let’s call it 100 texts altogether. I have no frame of reference – is that a lot? Or average textage for a day? I don’t use my thumbs yet. I’ve been texting on an iPhone for just five years, so I still pick out the letters with one hand. I’m pretty fast. But if I used my thumbs I bet I could double my daily output!

Arranged Thursday’s carpool, scheduled a dinner for next week, confirmed the location and time of my meeting today, checked in on three friends, thanked a mom for having my son over, had a real-time “conversation” with another – just another day in the texting-life of me.

You can’t beat this mobile, portable mode of communication for convenience, efficiency and immediacy. It rocks! In the frenetic whirlwind I call my day, it’s the only way to keep all the wheels moving, on the fly, while never missing a beat. And I don’t have to talk to a single person to make any of it happen. (If only the pediatrician and school secretary would allow me to text them, I really would never have to make calls!)

I stay in touch with friends and family all over the world within seconds, send a photo of the book recommended to show I’m reading and love it, did you watch “Downton Abbey”, say thank you for having us over last night, for schlepping my children, for dropping off the surprise orchid just because. With all the gratitude, and intention and sincerity that comes with saying these words in person or on the phone. Because as much as I don’t have the precious minutes to momentarily halt the rhythm of my chaos, and say the words out loud, neither does the recipient of my message. We are human, and we love to be connected, and to feel the love and the thanks and the community – but we are busy, too busy. And this is how we all do it in 2014.

U, ur, lol, brb, abt, omg, ltr… in the US we say xo, and in the rest of the English-speaking world they say xx, and does X mean something different to x, and what if it’s xxx, or xoxo? Did Ryan not text me back about picking up the boys because he’s in a meeting, or because he’s mad at me? Smiley face or emoji? It’s an efficient way to communicate, but also the fastest way to miscommunicate. It’s too quick, too instantaneous. As if instantaneous could get any more immediate! Did u say non-fat or regular latte? Hello? Answer me now ordering, long line behind me. Why aren’t u answering?

A swirling blizzard of short-hand words, coming down faster and faster in a blurring flurry.

When I was 11 I started writing letters to my great-aunt in Delray Beach, Florida. Long, newsy letters on pages of pretty writing paper. For at least ten years, all through high school and into college and beyond. “Dear Auntie Bea…” And she of course replied to every one. On those blue aerogrammes or on pale pink onionskin paper, that weighed nothing so wouldn’t cost too much to mail. “My dearest Nicki…” in her spidery scrawl.

letter2

Those letters took a long time to travel between Pretoria, South Africa and Delray Beach. I would reply as soon as I possibly could – once I had read it in the quiet of my bedroom, or at the kitchen table, I would sit down after dinner and homework and write her back. She signed all her letters, “Oceans of love…”

Her words would fall like gentle snowflakes, and once they had settled around me, I could reply. Thoughtfully. Mindfully. Taking breaths between sentences.

I do love communicating in the 21st century – I wrote about it just a couple months ago. Besides the essential texting, and the Instagram which gives me access to a part of my boys’ lives they would never allow me otherwise, Jon Lovitz actually read the blog I wrote about him (or so he says) and then tweeted me (or his publicist did), and how cool is that?!

But there is tension and confusion in the immediacy of our communication today. Too much potential to read between the lines, to take things the wrong way, to respond too quickly. No space to breathe. Or to think. No time to connect to ourselves, never mind to each other.

Across the vast Atlantic Ocean, a decade’s worth of letters slowly traveled back and forth carrying simple truths of stories, hopes, wishes. I am longing for a letter like that again, for the space to breathe, and to feel the snowflakes settle around me.

Text me, I’ll send you my address :).

Oceans of love.

letter1

Letters I received after writing this blog 🙂

Hashtag Facetime

My boys were playing a game on Sunday that involved a lot of shouting and leaping off beds and onto beanbags – nothing out of the ordinary. Usually I don’t pay attention at all, except to wish they would do it a little more quietly. But then I became aware that their language of play went something like, “Hashtag-jump-higher!” Followed by, “Hashtag-shut-up!” And then, “Hashtag-look-at-me!” Etcetera, etcetera. By the time we went out for the day, the older three were actually calling the four-year-old Hashtag. Talk about Damaging Life Events.

My kids have too many electronic gadgets, are too connected to their ipods/ipads/tv/wii/instagram/internet, and too disconnected from Real Life. I have to remind them daily not to turn on the TV until after dinner, please don’t play Minecraft even if your homework is done, go outside and ride bikes with your brother, it’s a beautiful day! I tell the little one he can watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse after his bath, and at 3.30pm he asks if he can take a bath now.

The kids groan and say, “But Mooom.” Yet with my gentle insistence they slowly venture outside, find the pogo stick and the frisbee, and eventually get up to good, ol’fashioned, outdoor fun (actually, it’s when I yell at the top of my lungs, “DON’T ASK ME AGAIN AND GET OUTSIDE RIGHT NOW” that they hightail it to the basketball hoop).

And now “hashtag” has made its insidious way into even their non-electronic imaginative play. O.M.G. When I hear it, I see Jimmy Fallon and JT’s hilarious Hashtag Sketch – they have an entire conversation using the word “hashtag” accompanied by a hand movement signing a hashtag. It demonstrates how ridiculous we’ve become ascribing all our experiences to a phrase #allinoneword, and also pokes fun at how connected to cyber-world we all need to be. I cried real comedic tears watching my two favorite celebs play that scene, laughing at myself in it all – but now I realize even my baby boy knows what a hashtag is, and also, he taught his preschool teacher how to use her iPhone! Not. That. Funny. Now.

I ban the kids from anything that has a screen for the rest of the day. We go to the beach. They’re still calling J the H-word but at least they are looking into each other’s eyes while they wrestle in the sand and chase seagulls instead of angry birds.

In the afternoon, I receive a text from my friend in Christchurch, New Zealand. She tells me our sons are FaceTiming right now. I heard talking from the boys’ bedroom, but figured it was to each other, not to friends a day away! So much for my screen ban. But I can’t be mad or indignant. My son was crushed when his good friend moved to New Zealand, yet they get to talk to each other every week. And not only talk – interact as if they’re in the same room.

Hashtag

Grandparents live half a world away. Friends come and go. Cousins don’t really know each other. But before my grandmother died, she got to see her youngest grandson on Skype – she never held him in her arms, it’s true, but she saw him move, and open his eyes and she knew what he looked like when he cried and smiled.

My parents and in-laws visit us at least once a year. It’s heartbreaking when they leave. Nothing replaces in-person, physical proximity when it comes to building relationships. On the day of departure, I can’t help but think of our grandparents leaving Lithuania and Latvia in search of better in South Africa, how they left their families behind, really knowing that they would never see them again. And they didn’t.

My kids’ grandparents watch them grow on Skype. We send videos of hip-hop performances and karate gradings. My mother-in-law sends me photos of Jacaranda trees blooming in Johannesburg because she knows how much I adore and miss them. My daughter has been known to text her grandmother in the middle of the night during a sleepover. We feel connected to friends who have moved away, and even to people who live nearby but life is busy and we just don’t get together.

Is it necessary for a preschooler to know how to take photos with an iPhone? Of course not. But how lucky he is to be able to see his Grampa whenever he wants, even though they are continents and time zones and miles apart.

Yes, we are terribly connected to our iDevices – and so are our children. But we are connecting with each other too. I don’t want my son to be known as Hashtag, but #ilove21stcenturycommunication.